Wednesday, July 27, 2011

My First Open Letter to the Universe

Dear Universe (or God or whatever you go by these days),

This is just a note to share with you know a few things I discovered this morning during my sweaty hour of meditation while pulling weeds in my garden. Please bear with me on the length and the fact that, most likely, this will be the most rambling, poorly connected post ever. I have a few things to say and, at the moment at least, they seem pretty damned important to get off my chest.

I want you to know, first and foremost, that the irony of events you've bestowed upon me over the course of this year so far are not lost on me. I can see quite clearly the lessons you intended for me in these things, from the way I reacted to a shoplifter's mental illness to the patience required of me in chicken coop building, all the way through to the futility of the act I was engaged in this morning as these things occurred to me. I get it. I've been an ass.

I realize also now the irony in the concept of homesteading itself, which is something I turned to as an effort to honor my heritage and slow the pace of my life in this hectic world that seems hell-bent on planned obsolescence, exponential growth, and repeated manic episodes of materialistic consumerism and excess. I realized, I think, early on, that those were values I wanted no part of and, instead, I wanted to reconnect with the very essence of life by producing my own food and clothing myself to the extent I am able here on these 2.5 acres with my immediate family. I had thought this would allow me a less expensive, slower, more thoughtful and deliberate pace of life, and I can see now that was an assumption made in error. If anything, homesteading, while rewarding, has cost me more in terms of time and money than I can ever hope to recapture during my lifetime. It has not, in any way, done anything to remedy the hectic pace of my life. Rather, it has increased it for both my husband and I, as each of us tries to fit in the chores of this lifestyle around the necessary paid employment it takes to buy all the things that have become obvious necessities as we transition to life in the country, such as chicken yards and tomato stakes.

In moving to a place where I had hoped that I could spend more time relaxing in nature, it seems I do less of that than ever and am more often engaged in a seemingly futile struggle to ward off the invasion of various insects and plants I hadn't intended to co-exist with so intimately. In just the last week alone, I have spent more hours battling ants and pulling out plants that I am sure serve some purpose I will discover at a later time from my garden, only to have them both reappear as soon as I drop my guard. I would like to thank you for the continual test of both my patience and my memory simultaneously. Weeding my garden this morning was an excellent reminder that all of life is but a grand experiment, the key to which is being able to recall what did not work long enough to avoid repeating it in the future. Next year, come hell or high water, there will be raised beds here or I will be planting directly through mulch. This much I am sure of.

Not only do I find myself with fewer hours I can devote directly to relaxation, but I find myself, being all the way out here and most often alone, more prone to bouts of madness and melancholy. I have also discovered myself in the same position I once faulted another for, treating her coldly and without compassion. If I weren't certain there would be repercussions I might not recover from (and the victim as well), I'd certainly apologize right now and tell her I understand, finally, her suffering and am sorry if I had any part in aggravating it. From this point forward, I promise I will strive to be more compassionate towards others and work towards a career that can grant me more control over this aspect of my integrity.

I need to thank you too for the fresh perspective you've given me in regards to money and completion of projects, the two of which there never seems to be enough of. The chicken coop, in particular, is a very raw reminder of this that I can see from nearly every point in my yard. What began as a cost-saving and eco-friendly reuse of materials has morphed into a project costing several hundred dollars that I could have spent on a pre-built coop and had laying hens here months ago. However, if I had done that, I'd be missing some very precious moments spent working with my family toward a common goal and opportunities for both some much needed motivation and reflection.

There is not only irony here amongst these weeds, there is often contrast, a yin and yang I often overlook in my day-to-day existence. I will try to be more mindful in the future and more appreciative that what once was a constant rush and blur of activity can suddenly and without warning come to nearly a complete stop. I will try to find peace and meaning in these moments, no matter how frustrating they may be.

So thanks, Universe, for these varied and important lessons. Thanks for the chance to pursue my dreams and a lifestyle I wouldn't trade for all the money in the world. Tomorrow when I am out weeding my little patch of earth, I'll smile at the under-ripe tomatoes and know it's all ultimately worthwhile, even if I scream and cuss and fight life as it happens day to day.

Yours truly,

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Best Friends and Bookends

Even in the worst of times, there's one thing about my life that consistently brings be joy everyday, one face that, without any sort of judgement, loves me just as I am with all my flaws and idiosyncrasies. This individual hangs on my every word, is always at my side, can tell when I need a little extra cheering up and is always happy to provide an ear (or two) to listen in exchange for a scratch. He's my best friend, though I genuinely love my entire family very much. Yep, folks, he's my dog.

This fluffy little rascal whom we named River, I'm convinced, saved my life a few years ago when, against my husband's better judgement and wishes, I bought him with my daughter from a local rescue group for my birthday. At the time we were living in a tiny apartment, two cats and three people, and I was suffering from what I can only describe as one of the most crushing bouts of depression I've ever experienced. For whatever reason, I felt compelled to bring another living thing into the mix of the madness that was our lives at that time, but it is a decision I would never change for a million years. Not only did bringing River home force me up and out of bed at a time when the very idea of doing so was exhausting, he brightened up life for all of us, gave my daughter a live-in best friend and gave me hope.

River is my constant companion. He sleeps by my side of the bed, watches me write in the living room during the evening hours, shares his toys with me and follows me everywhere, even to the bathroom. During thunderstorms, we share our anxiety with each other and hide in the laundry room together as we weather the storm. He still gently nudges me awake every morning around 8 am to let him out and remind me to get out of bed and that life is indeed exciting, full of love and worth living. On more than one occassion, he's used his scruffy doggy mane to dry my tears as I've hugged him tight.

I can't imagine life without him and as I spend all this extra time at home lately closing one chapter of my life and beginning another, I am so blessed that he's here to share it with me. Thanks, River, for being this girl's very best friend.

Where the Prayers Run Like Weeds

Heard this today on Pandora radio while weeding my garden and thought I'd share. Simply beautiful.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Zen and the Art of Vegetable Maintenance

With a later shift at work today, I was afforded a little time at home this morning to tend to the various things that need addressed around a homestead: dishes, laundry, watering the containers on the porch, and, of course, the never-ending chore of weeding the garden.
I've taken to this enormous task lately with zeal, using it as sort of a time for decompression and meditation the way some people do with an evening run or a beer after work. Since everything, including the weeds, sort of exploded with life once the rains subsided, there's no shortage of work here in my plot of earth, allowing plenty of time for reflection.
I'm on my third day so far and have freed the bean plants and the cucumbers, discovering steadily growing foodstuffs amid the undergrowth. I've also made progress near the peppers and tomatoes, which, in exchange for supporting me in finding momentary peace, will have my help tomorrow getting support from their stakes.
This month's been a trying one for me as I struggle with keeping on top of the needs of the homestead, learn to balance the demands of my jobs and discover things about myself and my limitations and try to discover a path that's uniquely right for me. My moments alone in the garden with the silence and weeds give me space to think, to imagine, to channel my anger in a positive way, and, when necessary, to grieve. Each plant I rescue from being choked by the invading grasses is like a part of me saved, a small portion of my life redeemed and, for a brief instant, I am filled with purpose.
My garden and I are very wabi-sabi, tattered, overgrown and homely. It, as well as me, will never be manicured and pristine, free from flaws and untouched by the ravages of time. We are imperfect, this land and I, and rather than rally against what I cannot control, both in weeds and in life, I'm learning to find beauty in things as they are and discovering ways I can cope with these challenges as they come. It's a long and arduous process and, much like my garden, might never truly be finished. It's a process and I'm struggling, but in the company of friends and loved ones who are helping to cultivate me as I work to cultivate my beans, tomatoes and the rest of my garden.
As my hands grow calloused from my moments of gardening Zen, my heart's getting softer, my body stronger and my mind more clear. Who knew such a chore could be such a gift.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Somewhere amidst this lingering fog
Exists a flame of buried hope
Beyond the dreariest of days
A lantern's light across the moat

Through canyons vast with waters high
My ship is battered, tossed and worn
And there within the tempest's rage
My spirit crushed as sails are torn

With eyes fixed on that distant light
That glimmers weakly from afar
I set my course so stubbornly
Through jungles frightening and bizarre

Whether I'll reach that glimmering coast
Or drown before I reach the shore
There's peace in that I've given all
In knowing I could not do more

So on I struggle towards the light
That promises both joy and rest
From all the torment I've endured
If only I will try my best.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Silent Sunday: Palace Photos

The results:

The process:
Two of my favorite men: Hubs and Dad

Building the roof

Mom watching

Measure Twice, Duck Once

Saturday, July 9, 2011

My Poultry Palace

I woke early this morning before the earth had even entirely shed it's sleep, the ground still covered in dew and a calming hush lingering in the air. After coffee, bill paying (which seems to suck less if I'm not yet fully awake), and the obligatory feeding of animals four-legged and two, my parents arrived.
This morning held great hope. Today we were coop building.

This coop of ours is a little miracle of economics. One of the reasons it's taken us so long to complete is because nearly every last piece of it has been repurposed, reused, recycled or free. So far the only things we've had to purchase are nails, two storm windows and a door. When you are re-using lumber, checking it for and pulling out old nails is a time-consuming, but VERY important part of the process. So is making sure those same rusted bits of steel don't get forever lost in the lawn, where the undoubtedly be rediscovered by an unsuspecting pet or person with the bottom of a foot.

After several hours of searching through and sorting out a pile of random 2 x 4s and pieces of OSB of varying sizes, several gallons of sweat, a brief break to run to the library and meeting some new locals by stopping to help rescue a neighbor's elderly retriever from wandering in the middle of the street, we've actually managed to make progress. I finally have something to report, folks. The coop has a roof. There aren't shingles just yet, but there are eaves and boards that block most of the view of the sky (we also cut out the ridge vent today).

It's brilliant and beautiful and I was both grateful and awed as I watched my dad, who I am pretty sure is now officially 60, scale the ladder to lay the sheeting and figure out the pitch of the roof in his head. I feel blessed to have a mom who finally learned to use a circular saw to help me, a daughter who hauled the tree limbs we trimmed with the tractor to the burn pile and a husband who did everything from measuring to hammering, not to mention who has exhibited the most incredible patience during every let step of this process.

My dad is not the type who does things at all half-assert, so this coop is damn near indestructible as well as being pretty and functional. We've started calling it the "poultry palace". I'll post pictures for you later this evening to enjoy, but for now I'm enjoying my family and they're enjoying the pool before it closes. Hope you are enjoying your families as well. If they're half as special as mine, make sure you make time to do it.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Under Glass Without Release

All things around this homestead are in a state of suspended animation. The garden has paused its growing and, unless you look very closely at the flowers that remain, you can hardly tell they are still living. They look so lifeless and limp in the hard, clay soil. On some plants the leaves have tinted themselves the hue of sour lemons after being water-logged by our continual rains. It's hardly consolation, but we're not alone in our struggle by any means. Loans have just been made available to farmers in my county and several around us to cope with their losses as fields lay fallow and barren. Knee high corn? Not this year in most places, folks, but if we're talking weeds, perhaps. Everything but our crops seemed to germinate once the rains subsided.

Building the chicken coop is also stalled again for the moment, although now there are four walls, openings for windows and a door frame. As a semi-private hiding place with a great view of the stars, it is perfect, but otherwise it needs a roof and a few other things before it's fit to house hens. So far the plan is to focus some effort there this coming weekend, but, as with the garden, we are at the mercy of time and others so we can simply do nothing but wait.

Meanwhile, most of my writing has been for paying clients instead of patiently waiting blog friends. I've not really been focusing on my own blog for lack of progress to report and too few hours in my harried days. In my few moments between ghostwriting blog posts, I'm pouring my soul into marketing what seems to me to be my singular talent, one that borders on obsession at times. Putting pen to paper or fingers to keys and giving birth to ideas, phrase by phrase, is all I can imagine doing joyfully as work, and so I find myself driven to realize that dream. Again, although my business is steadily increasing, it seems like just another dream suspended as if under glass, so close my eyes can take in every minute detail and commit them to memory, but too far away to touch. It's this same proximity mostly in all these half-realized dreams that's driving me nearer to madness, the anticipation and frustration mounting like being teased ceaselessly by a lover without release.

Instead of creating food from soil or worlds with my pen, necessity drags me back to days filled with agonizing solitude in my retail job. While I keep hunting for something I could turn into a career and nurturing my home-based business, I still need a way to provide for those who depend on me, so five days a week I sit alone and in silence at work and wait for something to happen. It's overwhelming and depressing at times, but doing nothing is not a viable option, so I simply try and do more. There's little room for self pity when you're aiming for progress.

Instead, I keep trying to remind myself that, much like life, building this homestead's a process, and not an end in itself. I can't will it to happen any faster on my own. Truth be told, there really IS no destination, just a series of stops and starts in the endless circle of life. Instead of fighting the current, I need to simply float sometimes like waves on the ocean, and not wish away the minutes. This is difficult to do without tremendous focus (a skill I'm pretty sure at the moment I lack), because all my farming mentors are years ahead of me it seems, and I see where they are and grow impatient that I seem so far behind.

One day we'll be closer and those folks will likely be farther ahead still, waving at me from the rearview mirror. Or perhaps fate may have other plans I just can't see now. That's just the mystery and seduction of life. For today, all we can do is pause, take it in and breathe. Some days that's all there is to do.